Young Changemakers Program
Akili Dada’s model for Leadership Development creates the foundation on which high-school aged young women build their skills and confidence as leaders over time. In our holistic approach, the main programs of our model are designed to work seamlessly together to provide underprivileged young women the essential preparation and qualifications they need to access key decision-making roles and leadership positions.
Direct Financial Investments
Akili Dada offers competitive, comprehensive scholarships to academically talented young women from underprivileged backgrounds, providing them access to the highest quality public secondary school education available in Kenya. Partnering with the top schools in Kenya, Akili Dada’s scholarships provide the financial support needed to bridge the gap between Kenya’s free primary school education and government-subsidized university education for the country’s top students.
To ensure financial sustainability, we only offer a new scholarship after we have raised 100% of the funds needed to support the student for the entire duration of her secondary school education.
While high academic achievement and financial need are minimum requirements for selection, they are not the only considerations. We target potential leaders—young women who have been active in their communities and have already established a track record of service to others. As such, Akili Dada’s intervention is geared to leverage demonstrated leadership potential and existing commitments to social change.
Akili Dada scholarships cover tuition, board, and fees, as well as school supplies and personal care items. This support is guaranteed for the entirety of a scholar’s secondary education so long she continues to meet the program requirements.
Akili Dada’s emergency fund is intended to address the needs of scholars and fellows in times of crisis or urgent need, such as the death of a close family member or a personal crisis requiring urgent attention. This funding is overseen by a committee of three members of the Akili Dada leadership, including the Executive Director, the Program Director and a member of the Akili Dada Board, and is allocated only as-needed basis in accordance with clear criteria. Situations eligible for coverage include counseling expenses in cases of deep personal trauma, and travel expenses and other types of support for scholars upon the loss of an immediate family member during school terms. The fund may also be used to cover health care costs for pressing medical needs, including items such as eyeglasses when a scholar’s family cannot afford to purchase them for her, and medical treatment needed for a condition that is severe enough to affect a scholar’s ability to continue to perform well in school.
Leadership Skills Building
Akili Dada’s multi-faceted and experiential leadership curriculum trains young women to become agents of social change through opportunities to serve their communities, to learn from peers and more experienced leaders, and to grow through rigorous self-analysis. Our leadership curriculum, which encompasses both classroom discussion and practical experience, offers lifelong learning practices and is designed to adapt as our young women leaders grow in age and experience.
Committed to shifting the paradigmatic understanding of leadership, Akili Dada embraces a vision of leadership that is rooted in service to others and a desire to catalyze social change. For us, leadership is not a top-down approach focused on telling others what to do but rather the ability to mobilize communities to work towards shared values and the common good.
During each school holiday (3 times annually), every Akili Dada scholar is required to assess her community’s needs and design and implement a fitting project to address a need of particular concern to the scholar. Scholars then complete a reporting template provided by Akili Dada to give an account of their experiences in the implementation. The template is itself a learning tool that is designed to help scholars draw valuable lessons from these experiences.
Our service learning requirement ensures that our scholars remain rooted in their communities and in touch with local needs. Scholars learn how to discern their community’s challenges, determine which they might realistically address, investigate locally appropriate solutions, and implement projects to catalyze change. Through these requirements, they learn how to plan a project, mobilize support for their efforts, and lead diverse teams in achieving a common goal.
In keeping with our commitment to continuously monitor and evaluate our programming, we offer modest seed funding to our scholars to carry out their projects. Based on feedback from our scholars, we decided that having access to resources which must be used wisely and carefully accounted for not only enables them to learn important aspects of project and financial management, but also to more effectively implement projects with greater potential impact, thus elevating their role as change-makers in their communities.
As with all of our programs, Akili Dada will actively assesses the projects to ensure that the funds are spent for the intended purposes and that the activities are sustainable. This provides an opportunity for Akili Dada to build its grassroots networks as well as connect with other like-minded organizations and individuals in the various communities from which we draw our scholars. These monitoring efforts also enable Akili Dada to better connect with our scholars’ parents, whose engagement remains vital in sustaining Akili Dada’s long-term impact on our scholars’ lives.
Examples of individual service learning projects
We have so far witnessed a lot of ‘out of the box’ projects that demonstrate sustainability especially in poverty eradication, education and environmental conservation in the communities our scholars come from. One of our scholars used her seed funding to buy one day chicks. She left the chicks under the care of her mother and plans to sell the eggs plus the chicken when she is home in December and use the money to visit a children’s home in her community.
In responding to the free primary education (FPE) ‘crisis’ where the government hardly provides any books for the pupils, many of our scholars (beneficiaries of the FPE themselves) have started projects that enable children in public primary schools have access to text books as well as nurture a reading culture. One of our scholars started a mobile library in her village that allows children of different age to have access to books. It also gives the children an idea of what books they need to have in the next year of their academic life. A number of other scholars have spent some of their seed money in buying text books for the local schools to allow more students have access to text books.
Leadership Clubs’ social change projects
Akili Dada Leadership clubs at each of our partner schools allows students who are not necessarily Akili Dada scholarship recipients to participate in service activities and group mentoring sessions. This serves to expand the reach of our program to enrich the leadership potential of a cohort of club members at each school, whose collective social change projects, assembly presentations, and peer to peer mentoring and interaction generates a ripple effect that benefits the entire school. At the moment we have four active clubs with a total of 200 members.
Examples of Leadership Clubs’ social change projects
One of the clubs is involved in mentoring pupils from a nearby primary school; they spend time helping the pupils with especially mathematics and science related subjects. As of this year, the clubs received a seed funding to carry out community service activities. One of the clubs has embarked on setting up waste bins in a nearby hospital in a bid to conserve the environment. They are also working on collecting plastic bottles within the school; they will then through their teacher sell the bottles for recycling and therefore make some money to go towards other club activities.
Akili Dada launched the Leadership Training Academy in 2012, which consists of a residential workshop held three times annually and attended by all of Akili Dada’s scholars and alumnae. Faculty for the various sessions include Akili Dada staff, mentors, and experts from various fields including psychology, community development, social entrepreneurship, social change activism, business, law, and government. As part of this process we have developed and continue to refine a training curriculum based on current best practices and also our own expertise and experience.
The academies bring together all the young women in whom we are investing for a three-day period of reflection and intensive learning about various elements of women’s leadership. Learning focuses on developing their personal leadership style and practicing leadership skills, as well as coping skills specific to their age and socio-economic contexts, university life, career choices, and how to participate in leadership and bring transformative change in their current contexts.
The academy’s objectives are to present scholars and alumnae with opportunities to:
- Engage in group reflection on their social change projects across the country. By breaking the isolation of completing projects on their own while on school holidays, the leadership academy enables participants to exchange ideas about different types of projects and how to overcome shared challenges.
- Discern and develop their own personal leadership styles. There are many different ways to lead, each based on a complex set of factors. Participants have a variety of opportunities to explore the advantages and challenges of their own personal leadership styles, while learning to identify and accommodate the different styles of others.
- Strengthen the Akili Dada community of scholars. By bringing together students across different schools, religions and ethnicities, our residential sessions provide participants the space to build the sisterhood of support that is so necessary for success–both in school and afterwards. Spending days sharing experiences and accommodations deepens the bonds of friendship that add value to the Akili Dada network over time.
Akili Dada’s innovative mentoring program relies on an extensive network of devoted volunteer mentors who are drawn from a wide range of professional sectors and who help keep Akili Dada broadly connected within Kenya. Key components of this program include pairing our scholars with individual mentors; engaging high school alumnae as mentors to current scholars; hosting an annual conference for our scholars, mentors, and other stakeholders; and providing mentor-only events.
Pairings with Kenyan women professionals
Akili Dada’s mentoring program connects our scholars and alumnae with highly successful Kenyan women and creates vital links within and across generations of women. Our dynamic network of mentors is comprised of professional women spanning a wide range of careers, including doctors, lawyers, research scientists, fashion designers, and commercial airline pilots. While they come from diverse career backgrounds, what they have in common is the experience that comes with professional success and a keen readiness to give back.
Akili Dada arranges for both one-on-one and group interactions between our scholars and their mentors at least 6 times a year. The mentors provide emotional support and ethical guidance, along with career advice and networking opportunities, while meeting the scholars’ deep need for role models who are themselves women of excellence. These sessions enable scholars to begin to personalize success and to imagine themselves as capable of the same immense accomplishments as their mentors.
The mentoring process also provides us with an opportunity to evaluate our scholars’ personal growth and academic performance. As such, mentors provide an additional layer of information that helps Akili Dada track the progress of each of our scholars. In visits from their mentors, scholars are encouraged to reflect on their growth and find clarity on issues or ways forward when confronted with a challenge. The information gleaned from evaluation forms completed by mentors at the end of each visit is analyzed and used to inform our interactions with scholars as we respond to their practical and strategic needs.
Akili Dada Annual Conference
The capstone event of Akili Dada’s mentoring program is our annual conference, which brings together the scholars, fellows, their mentors, their parents/guardians, head teachers of the partner schools, members of Akili Dada clubs, our staff, board and advisory council members and other stakeholders to celebrate the Akili Dada community. This one-day event is a space for taking stock of our scholars’ accomplishments and showcasing Akili Dada’s best practices as well as celebrating the achievements of all. One of our few gender-neutral spaces, the conference enables female and male supporters of Akili Dada to interact and have the sense of belonging to the organization. Parents have shown a particular interest in the conference, as it helps them understand the vision of Akili Dada and our work. Structured around varying themes, the conference also helps Akili Dada maintain a public image and acts as an accountability mechanism by publicly sharing our vision, mission, strategy and ongoing work.
As part of our commitment to building women’s leadership capacities, Akili Dada also invests in the professional women who volunteer to serve as mentors. As such, our mentoring program includes mentor-only events which provide an opportunity for our mentors to gather together, build friendships, and expand their professional networks. The events are also open to our university-age alumnae, who gain valuable experience navigating professional spaces and events.
Akili Dada Thought Book
As part of our planned expansion, Akili Dada is developing an Akili Dada ‘notebook’ or ‘thought book’ to be distributed to our scholars and various stakeholders. This notebook is intended to serve as a planning calendar and a reflective journal as well as a tool to record our scholars’ ‘herstories,’ with bits of Akili Dada history and quotes from both famous and unsung heroines to inspire them. The notebooks will help scholars plan for their academic terms, set goals and targets, and reflect on events and issues around them, as well as make sense of their own personal experiences. Akili Dada will review copies of the completed notebooks at the end of each year.
We anticipate that in future years, each scholar’s notebook will represent a vital record of her growth and the impact of our programs in her life. Further, the notebook will contain information that would be valuable in a long-term study of Akili Dada’s impact. To a limited extent, some content from these notebooks may also provide an awareness-raising vehicle for Akili Dada partners such as collaborating non-profits and funders.
The Akili Dada Thought Books will also engage our ‘dadas’ in a process of continuous self-evaluation by continuing our tradition of guided self-reflection essays. These intensive essays are currently due every four months and are designed to ensure that our scholars remain in touch with their own growth and needs and provide them with space for the type of candid self-assessment that we believe is an essential component of good leadership.
Based on feedback from scholars, Akili Dada plans launch a series of Career Days at each of our partner schools as part of our mentoring program. These Career Days will bring together various professionals, organizations, and the students at our partner schools for conversations about career paths and work choices. These discussions are intended to increase the students’ awareness of the diverse career options available to women and to provide an opportunity for professionals to pay it forward by using their experiences to advise the students on career and life choices.
Akili Dada has also began producing a series of video interviews featuring women who have overcome challenges to bring about social change within their communities. The videos serve as a teaching tool for Akili Dada’s young leaders and others, who will gain valuable skills in video creation and learn how to tell stories from their own perspectives. The trove of videos, a majority produced by the young leaders will also contribute a valuable library resource for Akili Dada’s growing mentoring program. Some of the videos are already available on our YouTube channel.